Saturday, April 21, 2007

Third Sunday of Easter 3, April 22, 2007, John 21:1-14

After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. (John 21:1-14, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

You know, lot’s of times when I read about the disciples in these accounts, I get to feeling sorry for them. I mean, often in these lessons they come off pretty much like failures. How many times have we heard of how they didn’t do what Jesus wanted? How often have we heard about how they didn’t understand what Jesus was saying or what he was doing? Like when they misunderstood what Jesus meant when he said that Lazarus had “fallen asleep.” (John 11:1ff) They were walking along the road and they received word that Lazarus was sick. Jesus waited three after hearing before going to him. “It’s time to go, Lazarus, our friend, has fallen asleep.”

“Lord, if he sleeps he’ll get better!” the disciples answered.

“No guys,” Jesus answered, “you’ve missed the point again. When I said he was sleeping, I meant that he is dead.” I have this image in my mind of the twelve standing around with a puzzled look on their faces. “Lazarus is dead.” Jesus finally says in response.

“Oh!” they answer, “I guess we missed that.” Oops, another mistake.

It has always amazed me that the gospels, even though they were mostly written by the disciples, they often aren’t very flattering for the authors. They failed often and they failed big, especially when Jesus was in the most danger. As Jesus waits in the garden for the betrayer, they fail to stay awake. When the guards show up to arrest him, they fail again. All Peter can do is cut off the servant’s ear. (John 18:10) Not only has he failed to protect his master, he’s a failure at wielding a sword, too! He didn’t do what he should have done and what he does is all wrong. “Put away your sword.” Jesus says. All the disciples run away in fear, and let Jesus be taken.

And again in the court yard outside of Jesus trial Peter fails when he is accused of being Jesus disciple. “I told you before, curse you, I don’t know that man! He’s nothing to me! Now leave me alone!” And then faced with that failure he ran out and wept bitterly. (John 18:15-18; 25-27)

Now later after Jesus has been crucified, they gather together in a darkened room, huddled together afraid, for three days. And even when Jesus appeared to them, they had their doubts. Thomas speaks for all of them when he says, “Unless I see him, and touch him. I refuse to believe!” They had all failed to remember what Jesus said to them, they had all failed to believe in Jesus.

And that brings us to the account for today. After so many failures… so many misunderstandings, and now they are about to fail again. We’ve heard about their failures as disciples, now we hear how they can’t even seem to go back to their old lives, “that night they caught nothing.” Looks like failure again. There they are in the boat, even after Jesus has risen from the dead, failing again. They couldn’t do what Jesus wanted, and they couldn’t go back to their old life. There they sat early in the morning looking at their empty nets wondering if they ever would ever again be successful at anything.

“Boys,” came a voice from the shore, “Have you tried the other side of the boat?” Now, I don’t know of many professional fishermen who will take instructions from a stranger on how to fish. But the disciples did on that morning. Maybe it was the sense of failure that led them. Maybe they didn’t have the energy to dispute it, but they took the criticism. And when they did… 153 large fish jumped into the net. John was the first to realize that it was Jesus. “It’s the Lord!” he said. Peter put John’s words into action, and leapt into the water to make the hundred yard swim to shore. Jesus had turned their failure into success. He gives them what they needed. Fish in their nets, and once they get to shore he feeds them breakfast.

Are we failures too? We don’t like to think of ourselves that way. But I think that if we look honestly at ourselves we can see that we are. Actually, we can’t help but be failures. That’s our sinful human nature. We try to make progress against it but no matter how hard we try we fail again. For instance we know the resurrected Jesus, but there are many times in our life that what we know about Jesus just doesn’t seem to make any difference in how we live. Jesus says, “Love your neighbor” There are many times when we don’t even seem to love our family. How easy is it to hurt our parents, or our children, or even our spouse? Our hurtful words aren’t often blasted over the news, but we often take out our frustrations on those who are closest to us. And just sometimes we do it because we mean to do it. We are just like the twelve we fail, we fail to love.

How often have we stood in Peter’s sandals, denying Jesus? Maybe we don’t outright say that we don’t know him, but what about when we act as if being a Christian doesn’t mean anything, or when we make light of our faith. What about speaking up against those things we know the God’s Word tells us are wrong. What about being tolerant of open sin? When ever we pretend that sin isn’t sin, or try to carve out exceptions for ourselves and others we are participating in that sin ourselves. When we participate in open sin either directly or in a failure to confront our brothers and sisters who are in it, we deny Jesus’ sacrifice for sin. We know the failure of Peter very well.

And as far as being successful fishermen… we fail there too. We know who the absent members of our church are, and yet we let year after year go by without a word, without an invitation. We know there are folks who don’t go to any church and we do nothing. We know friends and family who out right deny the faith and we say nothing. We think that the church is only a place for those who have their lives straightened out, those who have money to give, and those who have good reputations. Jesus died for sinners. We are to be about giving that message to everyone.

The truth of the matter is, the disciples were failures, and we are failures, poor miserable failures… poor miserable sinners. That’s the real problem isn’t it? Our sins threatened to separate us from the God who created us. Our sins are the real problem. In the eyes of a God who demands perfection, we are utter failures because we aren’t perfect. No matter how hard we try we can’t be perfect.

But, Jesus is perfect. It is perfect Jesus that gives us success. When the disciples listened to advice from the shore they knew it was Jesus because they had success. They ended up with a net so full that it should have broken; it was too large to fit in the boat. It wasn’t only success it was SUCCESS! It wasn’t just a good day fishing; it was an amazing day fishing. Imagine the best fishing story you’ve ever heard. And it was because of Jesus. They couldn’t wait to get to shore. And Jesus was there waiting to feed them.

That’s what Jesus does. He forgives failures. I’m not talking about a plastic Jesus on the dashboard to bring good luck. He’s not the kind of God that helps you to win the lottery. He’s the kind of God that lives in you through his Holy Spirit and show you how to do the right thing. He prompts you to show the love of Jesus in the community through what you do and say. He makes a success out of you, even when you fail.

What Jesus Christ has done makes a difference for your failures. In his great love he paid the ultimate price for your failures. He suffered pain and death. He hung on the cross and endured the punishment that we failures deserved. Even though he was treated as a failure, he changed that awful event into success. On Easter morning some 2000 years ago, he turned what seemed like the failure of his death in to the success of life. The tomb was opened and he breathed again. He lived and walked, smiled and laughed again. He met with his disciple, he met them on the road, he met them in the darkened room, and he met them on the shore of the lake. He was alive. Death had failed! Jesus succeeded!

But, the most important thing to remember is that Jesus success wasn’t just his success. Everything Jesus did, his whole life, his whole horrible death, he whole glorious, successful, resurrection; everything he did, he did for you! He gives that success to you in Holy Baptism. There he washed you clean of your sin and your failures. There he gave you his success; His perfect life, His self-giving death, and even His glorious resurrection. He covered you with the perfect robe of his perfect life. Now when God looks at you He sees Jesus. In God’s eyes you are a perfect success.

We really do know all this. Most of us have been hearing it all our lives. It is rather funny though that as much as we know it to be true we don’t really fell that much like a success. There are those days when we just can’t seem to get it right. There are those days when the love we should have just isn’t there. There are days when we don’t really want to risk exposing ourselves as a Christian. There are days when we just want people we think don’t who don’t fit here in this church just to stay out. That’s the sinful nature, dragging us to failure again. That’s the failure in us trying to take control again. That’s when it’s important to remember the success that Jesus has won for us. That’s when it’s important to remember when our heads got wet. That’s when we turn to Jesus and say, “You have forgiven me. I am yours. Jesus, help me!” And our loving and gracious Lord says, “I’ve died for your failure already. I took them all to the cross. You don’t have to live with it any more. My success is yours.” And then sometimes we can love as Jesus would have us love, even when the people around us aren’t very lovable. Then we can set aside our prejudice, even when I don’t feel like it. And sometimes we even find ourselves speaking words about Jesus, even when we’re afraid. And sometimes we can even ask people to come to church that we really don’t even want to sit by. It isn’t because of us, because our failure only gets us empty nets, just like the disciples. It’s all because of Jesus. It’s the Holy Spirit working in our hearts to bring success as only He can do.

The disciples enjoyed breakfast that early morning. Jesus brought them success in their fishing. For them there would be many more failures. But Jesus would turn them also into successes. Through His Word preached, through His Sacraments, Baptism and Holy Communion, given, Jesus used those fishing failures to build His church. There were bigger nets to drag ashore, more fish to count. They weren’t fish from the sea; they were people that God, in Jesus, died to save. They were failures like you and me that Jesus died to save. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ. Amen.

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